The real heroes of the realm have gone off on a crusade, and only their young pupils are left behind to defend the Eternia Crystals from monsters. That's the premise of Dungeon Defenders, a tower defence game where you place turrets to stop streams of AI-controlled enemies as they work their way around a maze to attack your base.
So instead of a Knight, there's a tiny Squire in an oversized helmet and no trousers, and Huntress, who expresses her character by turning around and wiggling her buttocks. The intro warns that “these heroes-in- training will have to grow up quickly” – this might be too quickly.
Playing alone, it's a strange game. Each hero type can place a different type of defensive structure, but you have to do loads of running around to intercept all the enemies. Placing structures costs mana, and that has to be scavenged from dead monsters. It takes a long time to scrounge up enough to set up a good defence, a long time to place those defences, and a long time to walk between all the places you want to put them.
Dungeon Defenders only really works in multiplayer: it's co-operative, so you can each focus on one particular stream of enemies, or one particular aspect of defence.
I like to play Squire, and set up a killzone on one particular path. I place a harpoon catapult off the beaten track so it can penetrate whole lines of enemies. Then, to keep them in the field of fire as long as possible, I lay spiky barricades to block and damage them just before they leave its arc. If there's room, I add a bouncer turret right in the middle of the chokepoint, which shunts them back or into the spikes.
These abilities are unlocked at regular intervals as you level up, and you can enhance either your fighting skills or your defensive structures. You also find randomly generated items, and can 'invest' in your favourites: pay gold to boost one of your weapon's magical properties. It's all smart and effective stuff to keep you engaged early on. After that, it relies more on you enjoying the matches themselves.
None of the individual interactions are especially fun, though – combat is stiffly animated and unconvincing, turret projectiles don't have much weight, but there's a definite pleasure in deciding where to concentrate your efforts and resources, while others do the same around you.
Strangely, Dungeon Defenders doesn't have any good systems for encouraging players to work together. Mana, the most crucial resource, is hogged by the first player to snatch it from the battlefield. You have a shared maximum for how many structures you can build, but no individual player limits: the jerk who squanders it by overbuilding his own stuff is ultimately rewarded with a higher score.
It's also tough to get into a good game. The browser tells you the character level of the host but not the other players, so you're usually in a game with at least one hero too high or too low level to have fun with.
The core idea is good, but right now it's too hard to get into a good game, or work effectively with other players once you do.